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What Could a Biden Presidency Mean for Hungary?

András Vaski 2020.10.25.

We are now less than two weeks away from election day in the United States, although many thousands of Americans have already cast their votes by mail and in early voting. As we approach this important date, polls indicate that Biden has high chance of winning. Polling website 538 shows that Biden is currently leading by about 10%, 52% to Trump’s 42%. However, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán recently expressed his confidence in a Trump victory. While we need to wait until November 3rd (at least) before we get an answer, it may be a good idea to at least evaluate what a Biden presidency would mean for Hungary.

Let us start with the elephant in the room. Biden, during a recent town hall, was asked a question about Trump’s foreign policy. In his response he mentioned that Trump is doing nothing about the situation in Belarus, Poland, and Hungary, and that authoritarian regimes are popping up all over the world. First off, despite what the Hungarian foreign ministry said,

Biden did not actually say that Hungary is an authoritarian country, what he said was that Trump is doing nothing about what is happening in Hungary, among other countries, and then mentioned that there are more and more authoritarian regimes popping up.

So, to be exact, Biden only inferred that Hungary is authoritarian and has authoritarian trends, without explicitly stating so. Regardless of whether he meant to single out Hungary as an authoritarian country, it is clear that Joe Biden will not be the best friend that Orbán has found in Trump.

FM Szijjártó: Biden's Comments on Hungary 'Have Nothing to Do with Reality'
FM Szijjártó: Biden's Comments on Hungary 'Have Nothing to Do with Reality'

Relations between Hungary and the United States are the best they have ever been, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Facebook on Friday. The minister reacted to comments by US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who recently categorised Poland and Hungary as “totalitarian regimes”, comparing them to Belarus. Asked about President Trump’s foreign policy, the […]Continue reading

Besides the fact that Biden mentioned Hungary recently, it is also important to take note of his foreign policy experience, especially in Eastern Europe. One of the main reasons why Barack Obama picked Joe Biden to be his Vice President was his experience in foreign policy, something that Obama lacked at the time. As Vice President, Biden’s most visited area by far was the Middle East, but he also spent a significant amount of time in Ukraine, especially after the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Considering that relations between Hungary and Ukraine are currently frosty due to the Hungarian government’s veto of Ukraine’s NATO negotiations over a language law that discriminates against minorities, a Biden presidency may give more bargaining power to the Ukrainian side in this dispute.

This is supported by Joe Biden’s repeated claims that he wants to rebuild the trust and prestige of NATO in light of a decline that he blames Donald Trump for.

Cornstein: Big Difference between Obama and Trump Administrations in Treatment of Hungary
Cornstein: Big Difference between Obama and Trump Administrations in Treatment of Hungary

David B. Cornstein, the US Ambassador to Hungary, is concluding his service in the country effective November 1st. The outgoing American ambassador talked to leftist daily Népszava in an interview about American-Hungarian relations, his plans, his activities in Hungary, illiberalism, and also about how realistic it is for Trump to visit the country and when […]Continue reading

Another important difference of a Biden presidency would be Biden’s commitment to listening to experts, and making policy decisions based on their recommendations, something that he was known for during his time as Vice President. This is in contrast with Trump, who reportedly makes decisions based on his own knowledge and gut instinct.

Biden’s tendency to follow the advice of his advisors may prove to be a further disadvantage for the Hungarian government as there are many scholarly reports and datasets that have evaluated Hungary as being somewhere between a democracy and a dictatorship.

Freedom House, the U.S. based democracy thinktank, calls it a “Partly Free” country. In other words, if a future president Biden sticks to his policy of consulting with experts, then Hungary can expect some version of what prime minister Orbán recently dubbed “moral imperialism”.

Political Soulmates: Why Orbán Supports Trump's Reelection
Political Soulmates: Why Orbán Supports Trump's Reelection

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has already made it clear that he supports President Donald Trump in the November elections, unlike many other European leaders. He wants to avoid returning to the age of Democrats’ “moral imperialism,” wishing to continue his “extremely good relationship” with the President with whom he appears to have so much in […]Continue reading

On the other hand, Biden’s support for a strong NATO and a rebuilding of the United State’s relationships with its historical allies has been one of the priorities of his campaign. It would be an unexpected move from him to open up a line of attack against Hungary over rule of law issues, especially when this is already a heated topic in the European Union.

The most probable result is a mixture of traditional alliance-building with the possibility of light rebukes in specific cases.

For example, the case of Central European University in Hungary would have most likely garnered much more attention under a Biden administration, but without specific issues for the United States to address other than NATO it is unlikely that any massive changes in the Hungary-U.S. relationship will occur if Biden wins in November.

Featured photo by MTI/AP/Julio Cortez